Blowin’ In The Wind 2022 – Another Opinion on the Ionic Original
Percy Song is a contributor on the Steve Hoffman forums, who was able to attend a private listening event for the new Ionic Originals disc – and took notes during the listening event. He posted his thoughts and gave permission to repost them here.
You can find the full Steve Hoffman Forum discussion on the Ionic Recording here.
I had the very great privilege of listening to the disc in isolation through headphones in a basement room at Christie’s in London last Friday afternoon. Even better, the man who recorded the Ionic Original session and did the final mix, Michael Piersante, was the person who placed the tone arm on the disc less than six feet away from me. Two other people were in the room with us. One was a Christie’s Vice President and the other was a person who has listened to the acetate more times than I’ve listened to Blonde on Blonde since 1966. My three hosts were generous to a fault; they could not have been kinder or more attentive.
Still, I only listened to it once. But I did come prepared with pre-written notes and, having asked permission, I did jot down some notes as I listened while wearing two pairs of glasses, as you may have seen earlier. So here is my take on it from that one time listen.
For the performance I think it would be a good idea to go back to the original as a primer, as I did for my preparation, and become familiar with the vocal – the tone, the phrasing etc – in each verse. You may note, as I did, that in Verse Three there is a little more expression, a few more vocal anomalies, in the presentation than in the first two verses. For me, there is an air of weary resignation in the first two verses which develops into a slightly more angry tone in Verse Three. I hadn’t noticed that before, and maybe I’m kidding myself that it is like that. BITW is not a song I listened to much in recent years, so I was discovering it again while doing my advance research.
Comparing lyrics and intonation between the two versions, this is what I heard on the Ionic Original. By the way, when I use the word “stretches” I don’t mean that the word or syllable is stretched in any major way so that he has to play catch-up with the rest of the words. It’s “stretching” while maintaining the meter of the song. FreakMusic describes it as a “…tiny bit of his characteristic stretching of many words”, and that’s about right. You know it is Dylan singing but it’s not the pause-and-catch-up, pause-and-catch-up that we became familiar with. I don’t know if he’s still doing that sort of thing live these days:-
Line Three: adds “Yes ‘n’…..
Line Four: He stretches “sleeps” and “sand” Not a lot, but enough to notice
Line Five: He stretches “times” (I didn’t note whether he sang “cannenballs” as in the original or “cannonballs”)
Line Six he stretches the “ever” in “forever”. No hard “d” on “banned”
Line One: Starts with “How many…”. Not “Yes ‘n’ how many…”
Line Two: stretches “washed”
Line Three: stretches “years”
Line Four: stretches “allowed”
Line Five: adds an “ah” between “his” and “head” to make it one word. Kind of like “turn hisahhead” Sing it yourself and I think you’ll know what I’m on about. He does it in other songs quite regularly, although their names escape me for the moment.
Line Six: stretches “just”
Line One: Starts with “How”. Not “Yes ‘n’ how…” No abrupt pause between “many” and “times” like there is on the original
Line Two: Stretches “see”, but not as much as on the original
Line Three: Stretches “ears” much like the original, perhaps a little more gently, and also stretches “have”
Line Four: Stretches “hear”
Line Five: Stretches “take” and sings “until” rather than “’till”
Line Six: Stretches “too” and “have” but not “people”
All the refrains are sung as per the original. No vocal anomalies.
For the music, I heard a picked electric guitar predominantly on the left, a mandolin mostly in the middle, a bass kind of floating through, or underneath, the whole thing. I’d say that the mandolin was the driver of the tune, the propeller pushing forward a boat on an otherwise calm lake. My note indicates that I first heard a ghostly violin in Verse Two which continued through to the end of the song. It became more noticeable, a more enveloping mist rising from the water on the starboard side, in Verse Three, but still retained its ghostly characteristic. Towards the end it even felt like there was more than one, almost like there was a string section playing. The players are playing with care and precision. No bum notes, no fret buzz, no ragged glory. It isn’t “For The Turnstiles.”
You’ll be pleased to learn there wasn’t an organ part; we can’t complain about the missing Spooky Organ.
The Ionic is about a minute longer than the original. I lost a bit of focus on the timings of the musical interludes even though I wore a watch for the first time in years specifically to do the timings. As you get older, it becomes more difficult to chew gum and walk in a straight line simultaneously, you know. If I close my eyes when I’m standing up, I fall over. Yes, I want your sympathy.
The intro was, I think, 20 seconds or longer. Between verses was about the same as the original – 10 or so seconds – and the outro was, I’d say, as much as 30 seconds. The track slowed to a full stop. There was no guitar flourish and decay like the original. No harmonica. I recall thinking the overall pace of the song was a little slower than the original, too.
Dylan’s vocal was centre stage, clear but perhaps not as loud as I was expecting, even a little bit of an “old man wavy/quiver” thing going on and delivered in a little higher register than I was expecting. Reedy rather than weedy with a vulnerable quality to it; carefully sung with great respect for the original studio recording. No playfulness, no playing with words. No Billy Goat Gruff characteristic in the vocal, no hills and valleys, and definitely not as throaty as, say, “Forever Young” in Shadow Kingdom (a performance I’ve become particularly fond of in recent days). The tone of the vocal throughout, in my reading of it, was wistful. It sounds like an 80 year old man singing his 60 year old song which, of course, it is! Bit of a silly statement, that last bit – a “dancing about architecture” moment….
It’s possible – as is often the case with our Dylan obsessions – to read too much into a particular vocal performance. But I almost got the feeling that maybe he is singing in that way to emphasize the age of the questioning singer. “Sixty effing years on, people, I’m nearly spent, and the cannonballs are still flying. I was young and frustrated and a little angry about it all then, now I’m just wistful. I’ll sing you this song again and hope it gets through, but I’m now old enough to realize that it probably won’t.”
The Ionic sessions were done before Shadow Kingdom; Shadow Kingdom was born from Ionic, it happened because Ionic happened. The care and attention paid to the songs on Shadow Kingdom is much the same as that displayed on Ionic but with a little more phlegm in the throat. None of the “several” songs done for Ionic were carried over to Shadow Kingdom. If a song is in the Shadow Kingdom sessions, it isn’t in the Ionic session.
My understanding is that the original session, recorded by Mike in L.A. at an undisclosed location, was:-
Bob Dylan – vocal
Don Was – bass (“I believe so”)
T-Bone – guitar
Greg Leisz – “I think he was there at the start, playing another guitar”
I’m kicking myself that I failed to ask how many takes there were. It was the first question in my preparatory notes and I didn’t ask it!
The basic track was taken to Blackbird Studios at Berry Hill in Nashville where Rachael Moore and T-Bone overdubbed upright bass (Dennis Crouch) and violin (Stuart Duncan). Then, back in L.A., Greg Leisz overdubbed the mandolin. I can’t say whether any elements were removed at mixing stage but I can’t recall hearing two basses and two guitars. Another question I failed to ask even though I had written it down in advance.
This song was the first mixed in T-Bone and Mike’s new set-up in Studio Z at Village Studios in L.A.. It was mastered in Hollywood by Gavin Lurssen, a protege of the legendary Doug Sax who died in 2015. He’s done lots of work for T-Bone and Mike. The acetate itself was cut by Jeff Powell in Memphis. I know Jeff is based at Sam Phillips Recording Service and I presume he cut it there. Mike wasn’t certain but said that it was at his company premises called Take Out Vinyl.
The song was cut at 45 rpm on a ten inch disc. It smells just like an acetate should smell. It’s a lovely smell!
In conclusion, it may sound strange, but probably the best way to “hear” this Ionic performance, assuming it doesn’t surface in one way or another, is to go back to the original and imagine an 80 year old man singing it without his acoustic guitar or harmonica but with a little group of players providing a sympathetic accompaniment. To my knowledge – which doesn’t have great depth, admittedly – there is no live version of BITW from recent years that is anything like the Ionic performance. It really is Dylan going back to the root, to the blueprint, and singing it straight and with respect.
And if it does surface and everything I’ve written about it above proves to be so much guff, well, it is what I wrote during and immediately after what I was hearing. It’s my first and only impressions of a 3:50 song I heard just the one time. It’s not easy; it’s over before you know it.
My hosts and I talked a lot more, and many more photos were taken, too, but maybe that stuff is for another time and/or another place. Maybe it’s for never.
Mike was kind enough to sign a memento of my visit for me, an official Christie’s event coaster, the reverse of which is an image of the reverse (blank) side of the acetate which has Dylan’s and T-Bone’s signatures etched onto the surface.
The legendary Percy Song is a contributor on the Steve Hoffman forums.